The three of us trudged north through streets clogged with emergency vehicles and exhausted firemen. Beyond the outer police cordon, groups of residents stood looking in stupefaction towards the smoking ruins. A car driven by Chris Coyne, a worker from St Vincent’s Hospital, stopped and took us as far as Greenwich Village. They had been prepared for mass casualties, he said, but few were admitted. People either died or escaped.
Though within walking distance of the gigantic pyre, a few people were dining at open-air wine bars in 10th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, as if nothing had happened. We met up with Irish Times stringer, Elaine Lafferty, for a kerbside meal at a tiny restaurant called The Place. The actress Helen Hunt and another woman were at the next table. Here a rather surreal event took place, given the day that was in it. A fight broke out between a waiter and another diner, which spilled past us onto the pavement. We abandoned our table and Helen Hunt disappeared along the narrow street as chairs and bottles flew through the air. Someone said, “Get the cops,” as if there would be any available police to tackle a minor fracas, which in any event ended almost as soon as it had begun.
We got another ride uptown and managed to find rooms in the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan. I thought we might be able to return to our apartment the next day but we were to spend ten days there.
I turned our room into the temporary Irish Times office. After a week, a bill was slipped under the door asking for immediate payment, since the amount exceeded $5,000, mainly due to the frequent use of the international line to which I had hooked my computer. I went to see the manager in the lobby, explained my situation, and asked if he could cut a deal on the telephone charges. He beckoned me to sit down. “I’m not going to allow you to leave this hotel . . .” he said (my heart sank), “. . . until we both agree on a reasonable charge for the telephone.” He was as good as his word. When we were allowed back to Battery Park City, he cut the bill almost in half.
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